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Increasing employee engagement with their development


Increasing employee engagementStaff development is an uphill struggle if they are reluctant learners. Jan Hills outlines some techniques to encourage employees' receptiveness to their own development.

If you want to improve engagement with development among staff, you could start by considering how development is seen culturally within your organisation. Is it encouraged, or is it seen as remedial, something that is only necessary if something is going wrong or someone is underachieving? If the latter, you will face a much more difficult task to get people engaged and receptive and this culture needs to be changed before anything will improve. Some of the ideas discussed below will be useful in this case.

Photo of Jan Hills"One reason why people don’t engage is because they don’t understand how it will be of use to them. In order to change this, you must get them to realise what is in it for them: what is in the development that will directly benefit them?"

If, however, development is encouraged, there are tactics you can use to build on this to increase receptivity to development and engagement with it even further. These things work best if they are built into the design of your development from the very beginning.

Perhaps the most important thing to do is to help people see the benefits to them personally of taking part in development. One reason why people don’t engage is because they don’t understand how it will be of use to them. In order to change this, you must get them to realise what is in it for them: what is in the development that will directly benefit them? What are the rewards for participating? These questions need to be answered in a subtle way, but having compelling answers to these questions will help to sell the development to them.

If people understand that if they take part in the development, they are likely to be able to do their job better, which means their new skills will gain them recognition from colleagues, and all this is likely to help them to enjoy their job more, they are more likely to be receptive to the process of development.

Additionally, there are a number of proven persuasive techniques that can be used to increase engagement. In his book 'Influence: Science and Practise', social psychologist Robert B. Cialdini outlines six 'weapons of influence'. At HR with Guts, we have developed 'six tactics for influencing' which we have based on Cialdini’s ideas but are relevant to development. Including these in the design, publicity, or content of your event can make all the difference to how receptive people are to it:

1. Social proof – People are more likely to take part in a development event or programme if other people they respect have already taken part. In this way you can use the success of previous participants as an example to encourage others.

2. Scarcity – People want things that are hard to come by more than things that are easily available. Therefore if the development has limited places and is difficult to get on to (or over-subscribed), they will be more likely to want to do it. If the programme is open to all, the same effect can be achieved by staging who can go when.

3. Reciprocity – People are more likely to do something for you if you have already done something for them, and they therefore feel a debt or obligation. This won’t always apply to development, but it may in some cases and you should always think about whether there is a key person that you can get to sign up for the development who owes you a favour that will in turn encourage other people to be receptive.

4. Authority – If those who run the development have a good reputation or the programme has been endorsed or sponsored by a member of senior management, it is more likely to be successful as it will seem more credible. It can therefore be a very good idea to ask a member of the senior management team to sponsor, champion or even speak at your development event or programme.

5. Liking and likeness – People have strong recognition for people in their network, or who they feel are similar. If there are others attending the development, or who have already attended, who they like or feel that they are like, they are more likely to take part.

6. Commitment and consistency – If someone has agreed publicly, in front of others, that they will take part, they are more likely to stick to it as people like to be seen as consistent!

Building these six tactics into the positioning of the development, alongside using ongoing development and measurement techniques as we have discussed in earlier articles, will increase receptivity to and engagement with development.

Jan Hills is from HR With Guts


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